Pet photography basics |

Pet photography basics

Dawn Armstrong
Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA

Part of sharing life with a pet includes carrying at least one photo of the beloved companion(s) at all times. The digital revolution allows an entire album to be stored in a cell phone for immediate show and tell. Here are quick tips to assure you capture the true color and personality of your animals with a basic camera.

An advantage of digital photography is that is costs nothing to take lots of shots. That’s what the pros do. The limiting factor is you and your pet’s patience.

Time of day

Choose a time when your pet is relaxed, after an exercise session or when the pet is naturally lazy. Avoid a photo session if your pet is not feeling well or has runny eyes or a dry nose. When outside, choose early morning or evening to avoid a washed-out color effect and your pet squinting his or her eyes. Make sure your shadow does not block details of your pet’s face or body. Experiment with a setting sun behind or to the side of your pet.

Natural light

The best lighting is natural daylight outdoors or available light from a window indoors. Most cameras allow you to turn off the automatic flash. However, dark fur can photograph flat and without luster. Experiment with flash to “fill” or light up a dark face if needed. Using built-in camera flash can cause eyes to reflect back in green or red, causing a devil look. Older pets and some cats are prone to this problem. With practice, this can be fixed on a computer, but best to avoid the reflection in the first place. If you must use flash, have someone stand to your side and distract the pet with a noise or toy so that they look away from the camera. Another solution is to tape gauze over the built in flash. This eliminates reflection from fish or reptile tanks as well.


Pets can get lost in the background. Dark pets need a light background and light pets need a dark background.

Fill the frame

Think about what you would like to portray about your pet. Position yourself at your pet’s level. Lay on the ground or carpet if need be. Put the pet above on a stair or table. Fill your camera display with the face, or a portion of the face and body. If you take full body shots, still fill the camera view with your pet rather than a jumble of background features. Keep props simple. A toy in the mouth, a ball or stuffed mouse between the front paws is enough to suggest playful happiness.

Shoot, shoot, shoot

The “sit-stay” command works magic. However, it’s guaranteed that your pet will move. He or she has no idea what you are up to. Focus can be a matter of pure luck – another reason to shoot, shoot, shoot. Even with a typically slow digital camera recovery time between snaps, you’ll get the shot if you remember to keep shooting. When you include people or multiple pets, the focus for simple cameras can stay sharp if everyone is on the same plane as the primary object. Otherwise, anything in back or in front of the pet may be “soft.”

Animal photography pros figure they are doing great if two out of 36 shots are sharp and show the pet’s personality. Read your camera manual. The simplest digital camera has surprising advanced capabilities to explore. Your “eye” for the shot, knowledge of your pet and patience, patience, patience will reward you with photos even a stranger on the bus will admire.

Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.”

– Dawn Armstrong is the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.

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